Getting started in numismatics

Young or old, affluent or not, all sorts of people find coin collecting an accessible hobby. Many famous collectors started as children or young adults, and this is also the kind of hobby and vocation that gets passed to generations within families and shared with friends. Because studying numismatics also involves learning about history, politics, art and much more, this hobby has educational value. Of course, coin collectors also find this hobby exciting and sometimes, profitable. The first step for novice coin collectors usually includes learning the language of coin collecting. Special terms describe a coin's condition, type and appearance. Mastery of basic terms opens the door to gaining more knowledge.


collectionStart Your Collection

Learning coin terminology and acquiring basic collecting knowledge are important first steps for those entering the numismatic hobby.




historyCoin History

From the U.S. Mint’s first facilities, to the discovery of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, read about the historical places, people and events that have shaped numismatics.




metalsPrecious Metals

Bullion investing and coin collecting go hand in hand. Learn all about the basics of investing and the many different bullion coins available.




coinsKnow Your U.S. Coins

What’s so special about the Morgan dollar? How many different types of Lincoln cents have there been? Get familiar with all U.S. coins, past and present.



Making coins come alive

The very first American colonists had little need for coins in the wilderness. They bartered with trade goods, Native American wampumand tobacco. As civilization grew, the British did not always give the Americans permission to mint their own coins, but the colonists found alternative sources of coins and on occasion, struck coins without royal authority. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Colony set up its own mint in Boston in 1652 during a period when England lacked a king and continued striking 1652-dated silver coins for decades. Thus, early examples of U.S. Colonial coins were born. In April of 1792, the U.S. Mint was established in Philadelphia, the nation's capital at the time.

Numismatics, the studying of coins, and the collecting of coins both stand apart from investing in coins for their bullion value. Still, the bullion value of most collectible coins still needs to get considered. Even today, the U.S. Mint and mints of other nations’ produce bullion coins that are different from regular coins intended for currency. Through much of history, coins derived most of their value from their metal content. While people used coins as currency for thousands of years, the practice might have been closer to trading small bits of copper, silver, gold and other precious metals. However, as gold and silver rose in value, the intrinsic worth of the precious metals in the coins began to exceed their face value. In the U.S., for example, the replacement of 90 percent silver coins with base metal coins began in 1965.

Learning about U.S. coins means learning about the history of the country. Very often, decisions about a coin's content, value and design were made because of political, economic or social events of the time that they were minted. In some cases, political figures or mint executives even made decisions because of favoritism, nepotism or personal competitions — and learning these details makes old coins come alive.


What is the Saddle Ridge Hoard and why was it such big news?

Three of the eight metal canisters from the “Saddle Ridge Hoard” are jammed with 19th century U.S. gold coins. One of the lids is for J.A. Folger & Company Golden Gate Brand Baking Powder. The style of can is from the 1880s, with embossed lettering. Folger also founded the coffee company that bears his surname.

Image courtesy of Saddle Ridge Hoard discoverers via Kagin’s Inc.

Editor's note: The following post is part of's 'Collecting Basics' series, which provides novice readers with an introduction into the numismatic hobby.

The Saddle Ridge Hoard is a notable collection of 1,427 U.S. gold coins of the 19th century discovered in 2013 by a couple walking their dog on their property in California gold country near the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Coin World senior editor Paul Gilkes reported in an article published online on May 16, 2014, that most of the coins, which were found stashed in eight metal cans, are Coronet $20 double eagles dated between 1855 and 1894, struck at the San Francisco Mint.

There are, however, coins that are dated as early as 1847 and as late as 1894, and coins that were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, Carson City Mint and Dahlonega Mint.

Altogether, the collection of coins is worth an estimated $10 million according to Kagin’s, the California dealer who helped the finders market the collection.

"The couple who found the stash of gold coins on their property while walking their dog early in February 2013 had traversed the landscape many times before and had even spotted one of the eight cans poking out of the ground,” Gilkes wrote. "Curiosity eventually became strong enough for the couple to investigate further. And what the couple discovered can only be described as miraculous.”

One of the Saddle Ridge coins is an 1866-S Coronet, No Motto gold $20 double eagle graded PCGS Mint State 62 that is the finest known certified by the grading service and estimated to be worth around $1 million.

Some of the coins were encrusted with dirt and rust after being buried for years in the deteriorating cans. Still, for many of the pieces, the surfaces of the coins underneath the encrusted dirt and rust were in remarkable condition.

David McCarthy, Kagin’s senior numismatist and researcher, described the first time he saw the coins after the couple brought them to Kagin’s in plastic bags.

“I picked up a double eagle dated 1890[-S] and removed it from its bag,” McCarthy said. "Looking at the tiny amount of metal that was exposed, I could see that the coin underneath was essentially perfect."

The find was made public in February 2014, though the couple remains anonymous, known only as John and Mary.”

"It’s impossible to describe really, the strange reality of that moment,” John said of discovering the first can of coins. "When I told [Mary], the look of bewilderment — her mouth was so wide open flies could have flown in and out several times.”

Mary said it was like finding “a wonderful hot potato."

The coins were listed for sale on Amazon and Kagin’s website in May with great fanfare to a market that was very curious about these coins. 

In a story published online on Aug. 22, Gilkes cited McCarthy as saying that roughly 75 percent of the coins had been sold.

Through Amazon, interest was shown from potential buyers in France, Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Brazil and Hong Kong. McCarthy said Saddle Ridge coins offered on Amazon were only available to U.S. customers at that time. 

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